Doing it all yourself

Doing it all yourself
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#1

@feaker’s thread got me thinking more about my own goals. (Thanks Paul!)

I put out my first EP earlier this year, and I hired someone to mix the tracks for me. I paid $1500 and wasn’t all that happy with the results, to be honest. Even after all this time, the songs sound pretty good to me, but not quite how I would have liked them to. After that experience, I resolved to do it all myself, moving forward.

But the thing is, I don’t really like mixing. I don’t even like producing that much. What I like is songwriting and playing instruments and singing. In an ideal world, I’d have someone(s) to work with who would be able to really help me with my vision and take over the parts that they’re better at, like production and engineering. What I’m wondering is if that’s even worth pursuing. I’m sort of… I wouldn’t say a perfectionist, but definitely want to be in control of how things turn out. I figured that the only way to do that is by doing everything myself. I usually have a strong vision for my songs, from an “emotional impact” point of view. How I want the listener to feel at various points of the song. I’m afraid I’ll pay a producer to help out and he’ll misunderstand my vision and I’ll have another horrible experience witnessing someone else ruin my music while I pay them to do it.

But if I do everything myself… am I severely limited by how much I can achieve? I’m not talking about commercial success. I’m just talking about the quality of my finished songs. I know there are people out there that do it. Takes Grimes for example. Lots of people seem to do it all and be really good at it. I just feel like I’m banging my head against a wall sometimes. Do you think I’ll eventually get it?

But like I said, it isn’t much fun for me. I already spend my whole day on the computer for my job. I don’t really want to sit there for more hours mixing later on. Production feels like a crap shoot, and again is sitting in front of a computer playing with settings and instruments and all that.

Any advice? Maybe it’s not even worth doing at all. I don’t even know why I want it anymore. I think I just… needed a new challenge in life. I wanted to feel the pride of achievement. But if I don’t enjoy it, what’s really the point?

Haha this is a pretty vague topic. I was just wondering if anyone else could relate, I guess. Ever since I started my new job it feels like I have 2 jobs. I’m loathe to just “give up” because I’m not getting any younger. But at the same time, I could just be chasing something kinda unrealistic. Thanks for listening.


#2

I feel your pain. I wish I’d have been given access to recording studios and gear and such in my early 20s instead of in my middle age. I also wish I had the time and patience (I’m easily frustrated here) to be able to write, rehearse, record, mix, and produce. This is an excellent topic and I hope it turns into an excellent discussion.


#3

It’s a great question Christina and I’m sure a lot of us have similar feelings.

First off, I think you do excellent work and it’s normal to have doubts about it in spite of that.

Second, I think you should continue doing everything yourself because it is only going to get easier as time goes on. Audio engineering is of course an endlessly complicated subject but look at the overall trend, which is what I think Big Al is saying also. At any point in the past it would have been much more difficult for an artist to do what you and many others on this site are able to do. Technology will continue to make it easier and quicker to do a decent mix and your skills will improve as well.

Being an artist is never easy though and the only way to avoid that is to either become a “hobbyist” or quit altogether, so hang in there!


#4

Look. You have an incredible gift, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see how hard you’ve worked at it, and how far you’ve come. But given what you’ve said, your approach to tying the technical production to the musical art is completely backwards. It has to do with your mindset and career strategy. From what I see from you (and I’ve spent hours going through your website, reading your threads, and studying your youtube channel), at this point in your journey, I wouldn’t learn the technology to attempt to compete with people that have spent their entire lives perfecting a craft (I’m talking about preproduction, arranging, editing, mixing, mastering) that you admittedly don’t even like and isn’t even fun lol. That’s simply not playing to your strengths.

Now I’ll get to my point. Consider someone who flips houses for a living. They can not be successful without thoroughly studying the aspects of the renovation and real estate craft enough to know WHO TO HIRE. The problem with your last record, may have been that you didn’t know enough about toilets and sinks, to know which plumber to hire and which to pass on. You simply knew what you wanted as an end result and that wasn’t enough. The knowledge of all aspects of home renovation is pre-requisite to compete in the overall market, even IF a house flipper’s actual craft is acquisition-and-sales (and not finish carpentry). It is an oversimplification to say ‘it’s all about who you partner with’. Because strategic partnerships are not formed by drawing names out of a hat. There is a smart way and a stupid way to ‘choose’ partners, and the former is not based on dumb luck or happenstance.

Here’s what this means for your music. You NEED everything you’ve learned. That was NOT wasted effort. If you’ve even gone through the process of struggling to mix your own messy tracks, you’ll send your mix engineer clean ones lol. You need to know your plugins in order to have an idea of their functionality and capacity. You need your DAW, to work out arrangements and do edits on your own. This saves you thousands of dollars in time a studio will not be able to bill you for. You need to have gone through the experience of attempting to mix, to know ahead of time when someone else will mess it up. Your understanding of your own shortcomings (as a mix engineer) enables to gauge someone strengths more accurately. Now with the familiarity of the process, you can be more realistic about what can and can’t be done to your material in the mix stage. That saves you (now as the executive producer) from tendency to piss off your plumbers and electricians by handing them an unreasonable workload for an insulting amount of money.

An artist has to LEARN to work with producers. This isn’t a skill you’re born with. Some artists make this incredibly difficult though. Some artists adapt to the process of working with producers much faster than others. Based on what you’re saying, I think it would benefit you to be working with a producer (or co-producer) especially on the pre-production.

As far as how to pick someone, you really need to observe them in their element. Go watch their band play live. Sit at the table and chat with them on their breaks between sets. If it was me, the first thing I’d do is sit down with you in person, take a look at some song ideas, go through some rough recordings, turn on a keyboard (or pick up a guitar), get an idea of what direction you’re wanting to take a track in, then try and read your feedback to see if I can get on the same page with you. That might involve pulling up youtube videos and saying “hey, do you like what they did to the sound of this…I think something similar could fit under the track”…or maybe going behind a keyboard and saying “I have this patch I think would create a really cool vibe in this spot”…and I’d go off that. Basically, its a time to throw ideas around, but you have to be really honest if something doesn’t match or an idea is going in the wrong direction. That first meeting is pretty crucial to figure out if its a fit. And with someone who has been playing music for as long as you have, your instincts are almost never wrong. As a producer I’d be feeling out if my ideas are resonating with your vision, and you would want to be evaluating if my strengths have to the potential to contribute to the project in an ideal way.

Another thing I would do is see how you responded if I suggested changes to the material. The producer has a responsibility to speak up if they feel the an entire segment of the song runs the risk of letting the whole rest of the song down. How this gets communicated completely depends on the communication style of the two people. And there’s no correct or incorrect response.

Then after that, if someone wants to move forward, I’d sketch up a concept draft of the song arrangement…almost like a demo…say a wearable piece of concept clothing to check and see if the pieces of the outfit sew together correctly before spending time and money on the fabric and stitching to create a finished suit or dress.

Really, if a producer gets you that far, and you’re happy with the work, you should be able to trust them the rest of the way though the project. They’ll discuss budget if real musicians need to be brought into the recording. And for what parts in what songs. They’ll help you shop mix engineers and mastering studios. For example, if I were doing this for you, I’d send as much of the editing work back to you as possible to help you save costs. If you just don’t have time, I’d send the editing work to a college kid or intern (but one that won’t fuck it up) to save costs wherever possible.

I think it’s worth looking into. And I think there would be a ton of people willing to collaborate with you on your material. Because it’s really cool stuff. I think you’re writing, your music, and the stories you tell with it, are really in place where it means something to people who listen to it. It does to me.


#5

I’m wondering what the process was, and the working relationship, with the person you hired for your EP. It sounds like it was your first time to do that, so it’s naturally a learning experience and there may have been things you hadn’t considered in working with someone else. (?) It’s tricky too, if you saw that person (or they saw themself) as a “professional” or “expert” and above question or inquiry. Many people have their own way of doing things, their pride, their ego, their “territory”, and that’s likely to get in the way of getting what you want as an artist unless you specifically sought that person out for “their sound”. It seems like what you want is a collaborator, someone who will take the time to understand your vision - and you don’t agree to hire them and move forward until you feel sure they “get it” - and then the mixing/producing process moves forward with a collaborative atmosphere where they are doing the heavy lifting of mix work and production, but you are assessing and giving feedback at every stage. This could take a lot of time effort (perhaps, sometimes it just flows) and it would be a close working relationship, but that might get you more of what you’re looking for.


#6

I absolutely hear you Cristina. I have been travelling this road quite a bit longer than you :grin: with some creative ebbs and flows. I still don’t quite know why I keep doing it as I really dislike that endless tweaking part of the process… that ratio of perspiration to inspiration. I have paid people to produce my stuff, with a wide range of results. It’s what led me to learn to do my own thing. I don’t actually know that there is an answer… it’s just a crazy compulsion perhaps?


#7

I can absolutely relate to this, as I would imagine be the case with most musicians who like to take a hands on/DIY approach to their songwriting.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times of gone through this soul sucking agony of writing/performing all the parts, only to have to turn around and then play producer to try and make your music sound the way you envisioned, and how much of a drain this can be on your creativity, and much of the time, especially earlier on in the learning phase, probably doing more harm than good (as was my case anyway).
The one and only time I decided to throw a LOT of money at an online mix engineer after going through these same frustrations you’re talking about now I was utterly disappointed with the final results, and ended up redoing it myself anyway.
As far as I can see, you’ve got 3 options, number 1 being, you spend lots of money to have a “professional” do all the heavy lifting in regards to production and hope that he/she manages to encapsulate your creative vision in the mix. Unfortunately this simply isn’t and option for most indie artists with a zero budget and (as you know) there’s still no guarantee you’re going to be happy with the final results.
The second option is to persevere, suck it up and go down the DIY road, saving yourself a sh*tload of money whilst simultaneously doubling your workload.
I promise, as your ears develop, and you find ways to streamline the whole process e.g creating templates in your DAW and rough mixing as you write, can take a lot of the burden off once the tracking is complete. The problem(s) with this approach is that is does take a lot of time to train your ears, learning how to correctly and efficiently use the tools at your disposal, as well as the already mentioned extra workload post-writing.
The third option is to find like-minded individuals, whether they be musicians or engineers who share and understand your creative visions on communities such as this who are willing to work with you to help in those areas such as mixing and mastering in a collaborative capacity.
I probably haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know, but I can definitely feel your pain and understand the frustration.


#8

You write and perform great music, so you have the hardest part covered. As you stated above, production and mixing don’t excite you like writing and performing. By the way, you are producing as you are writing and performing, since you are arranging the song and steering it where it should go.
Here’s the question I’ve asked myself: how long would it take me to acquire the skill needed to present my stuff in the best light possible? Being dead honest with myself my conclusion was more time than I would have to devote to it.
If you are in the same boat, consider how much time you would spend to properly mix and produce your music to where you felt it was truly representative of your vision for it. If you were to spend one tenth of that time seeking out a great collaboration with someone who has the skill you need to develop, and that listens to you, you have saved a ton of time and stress that can be devoted to making more music. At that point, the decision becomes a monetary one, but trust me, there are a lot great people who don’t have a big name who would be willing to help you that can make it sound like a big deal production. The difference is those people have spent the time and effort in different facets of music than you have, so take advantage of that, while they are wishing they could sing and play like you. It is all about finding a person you click with, and also knowing enough about what you want that you can give that person real reference points to guide them.
Based on your past experience, you should also have an agreement that some portion of the final payment for services only happens when you are satisfied, but you would probably only need that for the first project if you find someone who truly wants to collaborate.
Good luck, keep plugging away.


#9

@Jonathan I hear what you’re saying. It’s giving me a lot to think about. I realize that probably the biggest reason I don’t want to work with other people is that I’m scared.

In high school I left my hair messy, wore baggy clothes and didn’t wear makeup. This was all to avoid maybe finding out that I wasn’t pretty. If I didn’t even try, who could fault me for looking like crap?

This feels similar. I am really trying, but I still have the excuse of being a one woman show. A ton of negative thoughts and insecurities come up when I think about working with a producer. They’re pretty overwhelming. No wonder I find it more appealing to put in the work than face those.

I found him on SoundBetter.com. What sold me was that I liked the mix examples he had sent, and he said he was a fan of the game my EP is based on, and that he liked the songs, and he seemed to get what I was going for. I was expecting him to have a lot more questions for me, and to want to have a much longer discussion about the songs before he started working, but it was very brief. I followed his lead though, because he’s the professional. His first round came back with buried vocals, really loud bass and drums–like he turned it into super mediocre music in a different genre, rather than using those instruments to just help support the guitar and vocals. What really got me was the masters he sent back. They fucking hurt my ears they were so compressed and crisp. After all the back and forth we’d had about the mixes, I couldn’t believe he thought that those masters were okay. It just seemed really unprofessional. I would not work with someone remotely like that again.

So… assuming I wanted to try working with a producer–how do you find one? Someone local. Should I expect to have to “kiss a lot of frogs?” How much should I expect to pay?

Side note, there’s this guy Koethe who inspired me to even try to produce my own music last year. He does it all himself, and he’s very popular in the fandom that I’m in. He did go to school for music, but I just feel like if he can do it it must be possible. I feel like I’ve been chasing him for the past year and a half, and have not caught up. This is his most recent song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T00wJEmPZtA


#10

I’ll add more to my thoughts, but reading this thread gives me some thoughts on a much needed direction of where we can go with this particular forum!!


#11

There is a very real possibility that this very site could meet the needs of artists like you @Cristina! There are plenty of skilled mixers or mix engineers in training that’d love to just have material to work on as practice. There are many that would love to just have some finished projects that they can add to their portfolio.
I’m mostly just thinking “out loud” at the moment. More to come


#12

@Cristina I’ll mix some tracks for free, and if you don’t like them tell me to stick it. If you do, gimme the monies for mixes after that.


#13

I just had a neat idea. What if I find a co-producer, and pay them by the hour to work on my songs with me in their studio. Is that how this sort of thing works anyway? What I’m envisioning is a tremendous learning experience, more than anything. I could do a lot of “homework” on my own and then take advantage of their experience when we have our sessions. Kind of like taking music lessons, in a way. I’d still be ultimately responsible for the finished product, but they would help.

Is this a thing?

Thank you Father Christmas, that’s a nice offer. It’s not really about the money so much at this point though, but I’ll keep it in mind.

@holster doing this stuff remotely is tough, from my one experience. I think for me anyway I need kind of a synergy. But I can kind of see where you might be going with this and it does sound like a good idea for the forum.


#14

at this point, whatever I achieve is 100% on me, for better or worse


#15

Hi I have noticed there really aren’t as many folks on this forum getting their songs bashed as I thought there would be. I also haven’t seen too many forum members coming forward and offering services as well.
All of what you are talking about as you know are my thoughts as well. A couple differences are that you are young and very talented. I would forget about the good looks completely. They only attract those who don’t care what is on your inside. I have some beautiful granddaughters and I always tell them they have average looks and guys will want to be with you for who you are and not a pretty face .
I had the same experience with only one song along time ago when I first started. I farmed it out to someone I thought was talented and it came back awful. I only paid $200 at the time. My first post was titled “how can I make my songs sound better?” At that time I was kinda hoping someone would say " let me try one of your songs and see what you think?" Same as CPF said. Even tho I know I can’t, I still would like to do it all. ha ha
The best to you and keep putting em out

Paul


#16

Let me try one of your songs and see what you think?


#17

Ultimately what you’re dealing with here is risk. Am I wrong? If not, then education and knowledge are great at minimizing and managing that rise. And experience plays a tremendous roll bridging the gap between the artist we are now, and the artist we aspire to be.

I understand what you’re saying…

Regardless of how it feels, the reality and the facts are that it isn’t the same. The reason why, is that you have absolutely no control over what your face looks like or how tall you are. You have control over what you eat, whether you exercise, and how you dress, but none of us get to pick and choose, so all we’re left to do is make the most of what we have. I don’t see this being the case here…if you find out your songs aren’t good (through whatever system you use to determine that…if its even actually possible to determine that), you can always write a better one the next day. You can change that as easily as you can change your hair. Well, maybe not THAT easy…but you see what I’m saying?

I used to work with models and actresses with a talent management company. Young ones too. And believe me, every single one of them wants to jump off a cliff, when they turn 16 or 17, stop growing taller, and discover that 5’4 women don’t get to walk on a runway. That’s a pretty sad day. Finding out that’s something they just don’t have. But I have a hard time seeing you arrive at a day when you realize you don’t have what it takes to write a good song. I’ve seen a lot of SUCKY songwriters, and YOU’RE NOT ONE OF THEM.

That’s totally understandable on an artistic level. Disappointment sucks.

…but not on a practical level…right? I mean, just don’t pay them till they’re done, and fire their ass if they don’t know what they’re doing lol.

??? Did you tell him that? If you had told me that I would have felt so bad I would have either busted ass to get it right, or at minimum would have profusely apologized and refunded that $1500. Its VERY important to me that people are happy with anything that comes out of here. But I mean…you do have to communicate the problems. He can’t read your mind.

Now if he didn’t give a shit, that’s a whole different story. And its highly unusual for a mix engineer to not account for the clients vision and direction…this situation does sound a little off.

To me this process is one that has to not happen by cold calling people from ads. And I would avoid working with someone you logistically can’t sit down and chat with on a regular basis. Really, you need to start by talking to people in your professional music scene. And face to face contact with these people is real important.

There is a VERY different situation, where an investor (aka record label) hires a freelance producer, and the A&R department match them with a band to work with. At the grass roots level its an entirely different process.

OK. This is going to depend on your geographic area more than anything else. And it depends on how resource rich your area of Ohio is. Right now, I’m kissing frogs, insects, turtles and all kinds of shit that walks on 4 legs because I’m trying to break into the gaming market. Just don’t pay a frog until you’ve tried kissing him first. And some frogs, you may have to kiss three or four times before they start looking like your prince.

There’s no cut and dry price, or industry standard rate. It depends on how resourceful you are. You may get lucky and find there’s other stuff you can offer that they’re interested in, and no (CPF), I don’t mean it like that…

I have some ideas I’ll throw your way…I have to play a show in town here…I’ll try to follow up later tonight.


#18

Hi guy As soon as I get done with this medical stuff. thanks for the offer

Paul


#19

If you can find a person who is willing to do that, and come to an agreement on compensation, you can create whatever kind of experience you want. You may have to look around a bit to find that person, especially if you want the in-person experience locally. But there are lots of project studios and audio geeks around these days so if you look around enough it may not be that hard to find someone.

That person could be your audio engineer and co-producer, recording the tracks and doing rough mixes. Then you can sit in on the full mixing sessions or at least the latter part of them, to make sure you like them. And that wouldn’t necessarily rule out you recording overdub tracks at home to drop in to the sessions. You’ll learn by talking and watching. Doing this after-hours in a commercial studio or in slow times - or with an independent freelancer - could save some money.

Online sessions are getting better. The technology is improving and people are evolving the ability to ‘connect’ online. With Skype and Zoom doing audio/video and screen sharing you can accomplish a lot. If there’s a way to play DAW audio live (during mixing) online that could work pretty well.


#20

I actually work remotely for my full time job. I also met my wife when she was living in another country so we developed our relationship mostly remotely. So it’s kind of funny that I don’t want to do this remotely! I guess it’s the old “once bitten twice shy” deal.